Ballgowns @ V&A

This year has been full of fashion exhibitions and the Victoria & Albert Museum has long been one of the best to hold displays in the field of fashion. Right now the show on everyone’s lips is ‘Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950’, a luxurious treat for the fashion connoisseur.

The exhibition, which comprises of 60 dresses is presented in the new fashion gallery and showcases only British designers in our celebratory year of the Diamond Jubilee and hosts of the Olympic Games. The story of the perfect British ballgown begins with Norman Hartnell’s designs for the Queen’s coronation in 1953 and ends with the full length gowns of celebrities worn on the runway and at award ceremonies. The dresses encapsulate each decade from the 50s, with the lower level celebrating events like the lavish debutante ball to royal state occasions. The gowns are displayed chronologically so we can see how the occasionwear has evolved over time, although to my mind, the changes are not at all drastic and much of the early collection could easily be worn down the runway today. Among the display are dresses from Zandra Rhodes, Ossie Clark, Bellville Sasson and Mary Quant and the V&A also brings us an insight into the life of each period by also featuring jewellery magazines and accessories.

On the upper level, we are shown more recent designs from the likes of Hussein Chalayan and Mary Katrantzou. Some of the clothes here have been sent straight from the catwalks of Erdem and Roland Mouret, while Gareth Pugh has made a leather dress especially for the exhibition which is covered in silver. Here we are shown work from 30 current designers from Jonathan Saunders and Alexander McQueen to John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood. We are also shown projected images of the clothes on the domed alcove ceilings, shot by photographer David Hughes.

While this is more of a snapshot of British design rather than its greatest hits, the show gives us a look into the world of dressing for grand occasions and the infamous ball. Unfortunately, I left feeling a little sad – it is rare to be able to wear such a gown today unless you are walking down the red carpet, which, let’s face it, the vast minority of us are unlikely to do – I am envious of those who are able to wear these beautiful dresses on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the display brings the perfect touch of glamour as we make our way from Summer into Autumn.

Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 is on display at the V&A until 6 January 2013

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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